An expert fisherman showed me his skills one evening, several years ago. And, he didn’t even use a pole, line, hook or bait.
    I lived in central Wisconsin’s Portage County and was walking on a gravel road that led to Lake Emily. The road had a pond of sorts on one side, and the lake on the other.
    Whistling a low tune that went nowhere, and immersed in thought, I did not see Mr. (or Mrs.) Eagle until the last possible instant. It dropped like a hot rock out of the sky and splashed into the clear water of the small pond.
    Yes, that startled me out of my thinking. But something else surprised me even more.
    The eagle, when it rose out of the water, carried in its yellow talons a fish. And, it wasn’t a mere minnow. Instead, the eagle flapped away bearing a trout, bass or walleye that would make any human angler proud.
    That was the first time I witnessed such fishing prowess. So far, it has been the last time.
    But with any luck, I should be able to once more observe an eagle or two fishing. Southwest Wisconsin where I live and work is proving especially attractive to our nation’s symbol.
    To be sure, the Badger State has a very long way to go before it boasts as many eagles as it does dairy cows. Wisconsin, according to the state agriculture department, has 1.28 million cows.
    No, America’s Dairyland is not yet bald eagle land. Nevertheless, it’s a good place to see living, breathing, wild examples of our nation’s symbol.
    That’s because Wisconsin’s population of the magnificent birds is growing. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) looked for occupied bald eagle nests during 2016. Those aerial surveys and observations made from the ground found 1,590 occupied nests.
    That was an increase of 5.7 percent, or roughly 90 more than during the previous survey. That’s dramatically more nests than found in 1973, the survey’s first year. Forty-five years ago, only 108 occupied bald eagle nests were found in the Badger State.
    Three states have more bald eagles than Wisconsin. According to the American Eagle Foundation, Alaska is the place to go if you really want to see bald eagles. The Last Frontier had somewhere on the order of 30,000 bald eagles in 2015.
    Minnesota leads the way in bald eagles. The eagle foundation estimates that the Gopher State was home to 1,312 pairs in 2007. After Minnesota, Florida comes in third for bald eagles. There, it’s estimated that 1,166 pairs glided across the sky in 2017.
    Bald eagles are doing well, after being nearly extinct during the 1960s and ‘70s. Banning certain pesticides and giving the birds more protection are credited with sending eagle numbers skyward.
    Growing up in southwest Wisconsin, I never once saw a bald eagle. My first sighting of one came in 1973 in Vilas County, Wis. It’s one of the northern playgrounds that’s extremely popular for fishing and other forms of outdoor recreation.
    I was staying for just a couple of late-May days in a rented cabin. Exploring the lake, I was surprised when a pontoon plane landed.
    I’d never before seen such a craft, except on TV, and then probably in the program “Gentle Ben.” You know, the one about the tame black bear in Florida.
    Anyway, the float plane’s pilot yelled out, asking if I’d like to see a bit of northern Wisconsin from the air. So, in I climbed, and up we climbed.
    Not only was that my first time in a float plane, but it was also my first time in any kind of airplane. What I remember the best from that day was the bald eagle. We flew over it at a good distance, the eagle gliding quietly some hundreds of feet under the noisy machine.
    Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of encountering more eagles. Besides the Lake Emily encounter, I’ve seen countless more eagles while driving along Highway 35. That highway lies just three or four miles west of where I live, and I traverse it south to Prairie du Chien and into Iowa, and north to La Crosse and points beyond.
    In late February and into March, the eagles start moving to their nesting sites. At that time of year, it’s common to see eagles fishing. Some of them perch on muskrat houses near open water and use the rat houses’ tops to gain better views.
    A visit to Dubuque, Iowa, in late autumn gave me the most eagles I’ve seen at one time. A hundred or more perched and swooped on a blufftop there.
    I can find dozens of eagles in the trees four miles from my house. A commercial fisherman has his shop atop the ridge there and disposes of the fish cleanings in a nearby field. Such an easy meal draws many eagles.
    Eagles don’t nest on our nine acres, but they do perch at the top of the giant, dead elm tree behind our house. And, more than once, I’ve been treated to the sight of an eagle cruising low down the hill following my driveway as it headed to Plum Creek for a bit of fishing.
    A couple of years ago, we had a bald eagle and a golden eagle sharing a tree. They watched for the county road to be devoid of cars and trucks. Then they visited the remains of a deer.
    Several Wisconsin communities hold eagle watching days during the winter. Prairie du Chien’s takes place Feb. 23 and 24 this year. Participating is a great way to be introduced to our nation’s living symbol.
    For me, an eagle watching day can come at almost any time. That’s one reason I enjoy living where I do.